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The Nitrogen Problem in Agriculture

The nitrogen problem in Agriculture is a problem created by synthetic nitrogen fertilisers made from fossil fuels. Nitrogen fertilisers contribute to atmospheric pollution and climate change in the manufacture and the use of fertilisers.

The manufacture of synthetic fertiliser is highly energy intensive. One kg of nitrogen fertiliser requires the energy equivalent of 2 litres of diesel. Energy used during fertiliser manufacture was equivalent to 191 billion litres of diesel in 2000 and is projected to rise to 277 billion in 2030. This is a major contributor to climate change, yet largely ignored. One kilogram of phosphate fertiliser requires half a litre of diesel.

Nitrogen fertilisers also emit a greenhouse gas, N2O, which is 300 times more destabilising for the Climate System than CO2.

The linear extractive agriculture system based on fossil fuels is rupturing ecological processes and planetary boundaries. The 3 planetary boundaries that have been transgressed to a danger zone are Biodiversity and nitrogen pollution from chemical fertilisers.